Sexism in toys

29 05 2011

I was just reading this post about the way women are portrayed as sex objects in popular culture and the influence this has on children. It brought me back to a pet hate: the difference between girls’ and boys’ toys.

Firstly, what is the purpose of toys and should there be different toys for boys and for girls?

Toys are, essentially, tools for play. In play, children explore their place in the world. They learn how to interact with objects and other people. They use play as a means of exploring ideas they don’t fully understand. Toys, therefore, serve to assist in the mental, social, physical and emotional development of children.

Do we want our children to all learn the same things, or do we want boys and girls to learn different things to fulfil different roles in society? What do we expect of our children when they grow up? Do we want to give them equality of employment opportunity? Do we want them to form and sustain stable relationships? Do we want them to treat one another as equals? Do we want them all to be capable of looking after themselves and their children in their own homes?

Personally, I would answer yes to all of the above. This is not, however, what we are teaching them. We are teaching them that boys should be doing something active, something ‘clever’, bringing home the bread and that girls should be making themselves look pretty, caring for children, cooking and cleaning.

Out-dated, you say? Couldn’t possibly be happening in this day and age, you say? Look at the facts.

I have scrolled through the first eight pages of the ‘role-play‘ category on a major toy retailer’s website. I only reported on toys that were either pictured with a child or used an overtly gender-specific colour scheme. The charts below were created from my findings.



Who does this affect? Everyone. It affects parents and children, yes, but it also affects the rest of us: this is the training we are giving to the people who are our future. They will be the doctors, the politicians, the civil servants, the emergency services personnel, the mothers, fathers, entertainers, teachers etc etc etc. Do we want female representation in these professions? Or do we want men to do that so that women can stay at home and cook, clean, look pretty and make babies?

Please consider this when buying children’s’ toys and clothes. Girls don’t intrinsically like pink, purple, sparkles, high heels etc, they like them because they’ve been taught to. Make sure they get a balance in their toys and clothes – let them be active and get dirty, don’t let them focus on make-up, clothes, cooking, cleaning, looking pretty etc. At some point, girls will need to earn a living and boys will need to be able to look after themselves. Don’t do them a disservice by not making sure they all learn to do both.

For anyone interested in the raw data, here it is.


Weekend update

16 05 2011

This weekend’s favourite recipes: rhubarb cumble and, slightly more contentiously, savoury pudding. My parents have a bit of a surplus of rhubarb at the moment, so they gave us some over the weekend and we knocked up a quick crumble (recipe below). I made savoury pudding to go with sausages and gravy on Friday night. Four out of five of us liked it, but the fifth ended up going and making himself some sandwiches! I’ve provided the recipe for that below as well.

I had a large hole in one of the pockets in my work trousers (large enough that my big bunch of keys fell straight out of the bottom of my trouser leg), so I went into town and got a replacement pocket on Saturday and sewed it in last night. Now, we all know that my sewing skills aren’t great (I opted for woodwork instead of needlecraft at school and never learnt at home either), but I struggled more with this project than I ever have with anything else. I couldn’t seem to get it into the right position, then I managed to sew the pocket and trousers onto the trousers I was wearing, then I sewed the pocket shut etc etc. I ended up having to take it off again twice. I really did make a meal of it. It went on ok in the end, though – the trousers don’t look any different from the outside and the best part is that I now have a decent-sized pocket. It drives me crazy that women’s clothes have such small pockets; this is a proper man-sized pocket – I’ll be able to fit things in it! I’m wearing the trousers at the moment and am happy to say that, so far, the pocket is still attached!

Sewing seems to be becoming a bit of a lost skill. Apart from one of my brother’s friends who is a tailor, I don’t know of anyone around my age who feels competent at sewing. It seems that it’s not something that is handed down from mother to daughter any more and neither I nor my brother was taught it at school, although I can’t vouch for other schools. It is perfectly understandable that needlecraft has stopped being a ‘feminine’ skill – why should there be separate skills and hobbies for males and females? But equally, you reach something of a stand-off when it’s not being taught to girls because it’s not right that they should have to sit and sew when boys don’t and boys don’t want to do it because it’s ‘girly’. That’s when you end up with no one being able to do it. Then, in this world of cheap clothing, is it necessary? People don’t darn holey socks any more – they just buy a new pair. It’s often cheaper to buy new clothes than it is to buy fabric and who has time to make clothes? People have neither the time nor the inclination to mend clothes – they don’t fell competent to do it and the clothes will no longer look as good as new. This seems to be a common response to many challenges these days – give up and do something else instead.

Rhubarb Crumble

Stew the rhubarb with a little ginger. Grease an oven dish and tip in the rhubarb. For the crumble, use plain flour and butter in a ratio of 2:1. Cut them together and then knead with your finger tips until you achieve a bread-crumb texture. Add caster sugar to the crumble, to taste. Tip the crumble on top of the rhubarb and spread evenly. Sprinkle the top with demerara sugar and bake in the oven at 190 C until piping hot and golden brown.

Savoury Pudding

Soak 8 oz breadcrumbs in half a pint of boiled water for 30 mins. Mix in 8 oz suet, 1 oz porridge oats, 3 large onions (finely chopped) and sage to taste. Grease an oven dish and pour in the mixture. Bake in the oven for 30 – 45 minutes at around 160 C.

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